Tag Archives: Maps

Mapillary: Capturing, Sharing, and Exploring Street Level Photos

Mapillary is a tool that allows anyone to create their own street level photographs, map them, and share them via web GIS technology.  The idea behind Mapillary is a simple but powerful one:  Take photos of a place of interest as you walk along using the Mapillary mobile app.  Next, upload the photos to Mapillary again using the app. They will be connected with others’ and combined into a street level photo view.  Then, explore your places and those from thousands of other users around the world.

Mapillary is part of the rapidly growing crowdsourcing movement, also known as citizen science, which seeks to generate “volunteered geographic information” content from ordinary citizens.  Mapillary is therefore more than a set of tools–it is a community, with its own MeetUps and ambassadors.  Mapillary is also a new Esri partner, and through an ArcGIS integration, local governments and other organizations can understand their communities in real-time, and “the projects they’re working on that either require a quick turnaround or frequent updates, can be more streamlined.”  These include managing inventory and city assets, monitoring repairs, inspecting pavement or sign quality, and assessing sites for new train tracks.   Other organizations are also using Mapillary:  For example, the Missing Maps Project is a collaboration between the American Red Cross, British Red Cross, Médecins Sans Frontières-UK (MSF-UK, or Doctors Without Borders-UK), and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team. The project aims to map the most vulnerable places in the developing world so that NGOs and individuals can use the maps and data to better respond to crises affecting these areas.

On the discovery section of Mapillary, you can take a tour through the ancient city Teotihuacán in Mexico, Astypalaia, one of the Dodecanese Islands in Greece, Pompeii, or Antarctica.  But if you create an account and join the Mapillary community, you can access the live web map and click on any of the mapped tracks.

Mapillary can serve as an excellent way to help your students get outside, think spatially, use mobile apps, and use geotechnologies.  Why stop at streets?  You or your students could map trails, as I have done while hiking or biking, or  map rivers and lakes from a kayak or canoe.  There is much to be mapped, explored, studied, and enjoyed.  If you’d like extra help in mapping your campus, town, or field trip with Mapillary, send an email to Mapillary and let the team know what you have in mind.  They can help you and your students get started with ideas and tips (and bike mounts, if you need them).

For about 18 months, I have been using Mapillary to map trails and streets.  I used the Mapillary app on my smartphone, generating photographs and locations as I hiked along. One of the trails that I mapped is shown below and also on the global map that everyone in the Mapillary community can access.  I have spoken with the Mapillary staff and salute their efforts.

I look forward to hearing your reactions and how you use this tool.

Mapillary tool for generating and sharing street level photos and maps

Mapillary tool for generating and sharing street level photos and maps.

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Maps as representations of reality: The deciduous-coniferous tree “line”

One theme that we frequently discuss in teaching and learning with GIS is that maps are representations of reality.  To be sure, they are very useful representations of reality, but they are representations nonetheless, laden with meaning, different possibilities for interpretation, and yes, some distortions and error.  In the fast-paced world that GIS analysis and creating maps has become, it is easy to lose sight of these representation fundamentals when we have maps and imagery at our fingertips, at multiple scales and over multiple themes.

In a video, I discuss just one place where care needs to be made in interpreting maps.  In the video, observe my surroundings as I stand near the traditional “line” that divides the deciduous forest to the south from the coniferous forest to the north in North America.  On most maps, this is indeed shown as a line.  However, consider the following:  Is the “line” really a line at all, or is it better described as a gradual change from deciduous to coniferous as one travels north? Is that vector line then better symbolized as a “zone”, or is vegetation better mapped as a raster data set, with each cell representing the percentage of deciduous and coniferous trees in that cell?

How many other data sets do we tend to see as having firm boundaries, when the boundaries in reality are far from being “firm”?  How does that affect the decisions we make with them?  Even the boundary between wetlands and open water were originally interpreted based on land cover data or a satellite or aerial image.   In another example, as stated in the GIS and Public Domain Data book, contour lines are not surveyed lines, but rather are interpreted, often from aerial stereo pairs.  And each data set that we can analyze with maps was collected at a specific scale, with certain equipment and software, at a specific date, and within certain margins of error that the organization established.

Maps are representations of reality.  They are some of the most useful tools ever invented, but care needs to be taken when using this or any abstracted data.  How might you be able to use these examples and considerations for “teachable moments” in your own instruction to foster critical thinking?

Maps as representations of reality:  The deciduous-coniferous tree "line"

Maps as representations of reality: The deciduous-coniferous tree “line”.

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Compare 3 Time Periods with Topographic Maps in ArcGIS Online

I recently wrote about the availability of an absolutely fabulous resource, that more than 175,000 USGS topographic maps spanning the past century now exist in ArcGIS Online.  This week, to commemorate Earth Science Week, using the techniques I described in the essay “Web Maps, Web Apps, Story Maps,” I created a web app showing three maps.  The app starts at Burwell, Nebraska, one of my favorite places–the Nebraska Sand Hills, and shows a 1952 USGS 1:24,000-scale topographic map, a newer edition USGS topographic map from 1978, and the current Esri topographic map of the same area. The map is shown here; to see it, you need to log in to your ArcGIS Online organizational account, as the historical USGS topographic maps are part of the Esri Premium Content. Land cover changes observed on the map include the railroad becoming abandoned, a few blocks and houses constructed, and a curve added to the state highway northeast of town, but on the whole, these changes were small.  During that time, the town lost population, falling from 1,413 in 1950 to 1,210 in 2010.

Land Cover change in Burwell, Nebraska: Left:  1952.  Center:  1978.  Right:  2014.

Land Cover change in Burwell, Nebraska: Left: 1952. Center: 1978. Right: 2014.

Now, zoom out, pan to Texas, and zoom in to Plano, Texas, until you see the 1:24,000-scale maps in the left and center panel.  The magnitude of land cover change in Plano versus that in Burwell is immediately evident.  Plano was affected by the rapidly urbanizing Dallas metroplex to the south:  The north-south highway became a freeway, an east-west freeway was added, the railroad became part of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit, and streets filled in the entire map frame.  Using either the USGS Map Store index or just clicking in the map on the left side, it can be determined that the left map dates from 1960, the center map with purple tint dates from 1973, and the right is a current (2014) topographic map.  Plano’s population grew from 3,695 in 1960 to 269,776 in 2010, becoming the 9th most populous city in all of Texas.

Land cover change in Plano, Texas:  Left:  1960.  Center:  1973.  Right:  2014.

Land cover change in Plano, Texas: Left: 1960. Center: 1973. Right: 2014.

Use this map to examine other places, including your own community.  What changes do you and your students observe, and what local, regional, national, and international forces were responsible for these changes?  What will your community look like in the future, and why?

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Investigating land use change over time with the USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer

Investigating land use change over time has always been a mainstay of geography and environmental education and research.  Recently, several new ways of accessing more than 175,000 historical USGS topographic maps through ArcGIS Online make land use change even more accessible to students, educators, and researchers.  In this essay, I will focus on the USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer, and in future essays, discuss some of the other ways that you can easily access these maps in ArcGIS Online.  As a former USGS geographer, I consider the arrival of these maps in ArcGIS Online as one of the most exciting announcements of the past decade.

The USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer is a customized application that runs in a web browser that shows the dates and scales of the available USGS topographic maps for any area of the USA below a chosen area of interest.  Simply by selecting individual maps using this application, changes in coastlines, river flow resulting from the construction of reservoirs, urbanization, and much more can be examined.  In the example below, I explore one of the most rapidly urbanizing areas of the country, Plano, Texas, comparing the current topographic base map to the 1960 USGS topographic map.  As is evident, many additional maps of the area at different scales and dates are available.

USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer

USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer.

Give it a try!  How can you use this in your instruction and teaching?

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Exploring Mexico through Dynamic Web Maps

One of the people I regard most highly here at Esri has created an online atlas of Mexico.  He started it off as an Esri storymap, but as he continued to add content, it soon become a “story atlas.”  As an educator I was immediately struck by how useful the atlas could be as a tool to teach and learn about Mexico.  I am continually amazed and also hear from educators at how little American students really know about their neighbor to the south.  The maps can be accessed in many different ways, such as an ArcGIS Online presentation with a description here, as an iPad iBook, but I think most importantly, as a series of story maps.  Each of these separate story maps contains 1 to 6 thematically related maps on the following topics:

You can use this resource of over 30 thematic maps to teach and learn about population, landforms, climate, historical landmarks, caves, indigenous cultures, tourist attractions, and more.  Many features such as volcanoes and landmark buildings are accompanied by popups with photographs and descriptions.  Best of all, since the maps reside in the ArcGIS Online, they are dynamic maps:  Unlike static digital maps in PDF or JPG format, these maps can be explored at different scales and interacted with.

The atlas includes a unique set of cartograms showing the states of Mexico mapped on a number of different variables.  Another nice feature of the atlas is that it includes data about the individual states of Mexico.   How many students know that Mexico is comprised of 31 states and 1 federal district?  The individual states can be investigated with this atlas.  Finally, like all good maps and atlases, this atlas may challenge students’ preconceived notions.  For example, the murder rate by state map shows that even though Mexico is not crime free, there are states with murder rates comparable to the safest European countries.  And the famous volcanoes of Mexico are concentrated along a fairly narrow band of latitude.  Enjoy this resource and I look forward to hearing from you how you use it in the classroom!  Saludos cordiales!

Mexico story map with precipitation theme.

Mexico story map with precipitation theme.

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Spatial Mathematics: Theory and Practice Through Mapping

Dr Sandra Lach Arlinghaus and I have co-written a book entitled Spatial Mathematics—Theory and Practice Through Mapping, published by CRC Press/Taylor & Francis.  Spatial mathematics draws on the theoretical underpinnings of both mathematics and geography.  Spatial mathematics draws from geometry, topology, graph theory, trigonometry, modern algebra, symbolic logic, set theory, and more.  To build bridges between mathematics and geography, each of the book’s 10 chapters begins with theoretical discussions that form the bridge foundation, and activities that form the span between the two disciplines.  It can be used as a text in geography, GIS, or mathematics courses at the university or community college level, and by researchers interested in these intersections, and by GIS practitioners who seek deeper insight into the mathematics behind their spatial analysis.

Spatial Mathematics book

Spatial Mathematics book.

Our table of contents includes 10 chapters:

1.  Geometry of the Sphere
2.  Location, Trigonometry, and Measurement of the Sphere
3.  Transformations: Analysis and Raster/Vector Formats
4.  Replication of Results: Color and Number
5.  Scale
6.  Partitioning of Data: Classification and Analysis
7.  Visualizing Hierarchies
8.  Distribution of Data: Selected Concepts
9.  Map Projections
10.  Integrating Past, Present, and Future Approaches
The book also includes a Glossary, References, Further Reading, and Related Materials.

Waldo Tobler of the University of California Santa Barbara, wrote, “Two ancient texts had a profound and lasting impact on the literate world—Euclid’s Elements, and the rediscovery in the 1400s of Ptolemy’s Geography from AD 150. […]  Now, in this book, additional insight for the mathematical solution of geographical tasks is provided. The pedagogical orientation is especially worthy of comment.”  Michael Batty, of the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at University College London, wrote “Teaching mathematics can be tough but here is a book that is a gentle introduction to the mathematics of the spatial world through the medium of mapping.  The use of QR codes to access additional map-based material is clever and innovative, and provides a nice link to the very technologies that this mathematics supports.”

Michael Goodchild, of the University of California, Santa Barbara, wrote that “Mathematics underpins geography in many ways, especially in this new era of computerized mapping and geographic information systems. Geography can also be an exciting and relevant way of teaching many of the basic concepts of mathematics, from geometry and topology to statistics. So this book on spatial mathematics as applied to mapping is both timely and welcome. The wealth of practical examples and the enthusiasm of its authors will fill an important niche in a mapping literature that often underplays the importance and relevance of mathematics.”    Marc Schlossberg of the University of Oregon, wrote, “This book is both all about the map and all about the math behind the map, using what has become ubiquitous on our smart phones and in our vehicles as a vehicle itself to teach complex concepts accessible, meaningful, and useful for students.”

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Maps and the Geospatial Revolution MOOC

Wouldn’t it be amazing if thousands of people could learn about the power of mapping, start making their own web maps, and begin thinking spatially in new ways?  MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) make it possible for universities to open higher education to many more students than was previously possible.  Beginning 17 July 2013, Dr. Anthony C. Robinson, Geography Professor at The Pennsylvania State University, will offer a MOOC entitled “Maps and the Geospatial Revolution.”  This MOOC uses the Coursera platform, which Penn State will be using for 4 other courses as well.  Since Coursera launched in April 2012,  1.45 million students are enrolling in courses each month on their platform.  Other platforms such as Udacity and EdX also attract large numbers.  Not only are these statistics revolutionary, but the idea of mapping as a platform for the efficient functioning of society is also revolutionary.  Why?

Maps and the Geospatial Revolution

Maps and the Geospatial Revolution

According to Robinson, this past decade has seen an explosion of  new mechanisms for understanding and using location information in widely-accessible technologies.  This Geospatial Revolution has resulted in the development of consumer GPS tools, interactive web maps, and location-aware mobile devices. These radical advances are making it possible for people from all walks of life to use, collect, and understand spatial information like never before.

This course is designed to help you rethink what maps are and what they can do, create your first map to tell a story, evaluate and critique the design of maps, explore what is revolutionary about Geography.  This course runs for 5 weeks and will have you making maps, analyzing issues and patterns from natural hazards to ecoregions to population change, using exciting new tools such as ArcGIS Online.

Interested?  Examine the excellent video series from Penn State on the geospatial revolution.  Follow @MapRevolution on Twitter for updates.  And most importantly, join the course!

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Seven Ideas: GIS for Geocaching with Scouts, Youth, or Anyone

For the last several years now, every spring and fall, I volunteer to help the local Girl Scout council, not unlike many you GeoMentors. We plan and implement a large geocaching event. The event, now called “The Geocache Party” typically has 100 to 300 Girl Scouts involved. If you have ever planned a sizable geocaching (or Open Caching) event with several activities, you know placing, tracking, and reclaiming your caches can be a real nightmare. For a single event last year, we placed nearly 100 caches across 175 wooded acres. Just try to remember where all those caches are when you pick them up, at the end of an event!

Like many outdoor geo-activities, geocaching can be enhanced by using GIS. To support individual (traditional) geocaching or large geocaching events, I have assembled my seven ideas for leveraging GIS – to plan, manage, or even evaluate your caches and performance.

  1. Map your geocache coordinates before you leave home with the ArcGIS Online map viewer. Explore the geographic features, hazards, and public lands wherever you are headed. You can even add real-time weather to your map.
  2. Track and record your geocache finds in your own map at ArcGIS.com. This allows you to tell your geocaching stories, your way.
  3. Preparing a geocaching event? Use a GIS to map and manage your caches. Cache type, location, activity or purpose fields help explain where and why a cache is placed. (image below)
  4. Print out your GIS map and take it with you for reference while geocaching. Selecting the best base map can often lend helpful data to your hunt!
  5. Report out! Add your GPS track, routes, and waypoints to your geocache coordinate map to see how well you did finding caches – in ArcGIS Online. (first image)
  6. Report out! Take all the photos and video you want while geocaching. You can place media in “notes” and geotag to document your trip.
  7. Learn GIS career skills while enjoying a great geo-hobby!

By the way, both the Boy Scouts of America and the Girl Scouts now offer Geocaching badges, each at certain age levels.

Happy Geocaching!

- Tom Baker, Esri Education Manager

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Scale Matters, 2 of 2

Scale Matters, 2 of 2

Several types of scale exist in geography. Cartographic scale refers to the size of a feature on a map relative to its actual size in the real world. Cartographic scale can be expressed as a verbal statement such as “one inch equals one mile”, or graphically as in a scale bar, or as a representative fraction, such as 1:24,000 scale. A small scale map (such as 1:1,000,000) shows a great amount of area but not much detail. A large scale map (such as 1:24,000) shows a great amount of detail but not much area. This may seem counterintuitive but it is because the ratio 1:1,000,000 (or 1/1,000,000) is smaller than 1/24,000. A small fraction means a small scale map. Confusion sometimes occurs because when we discuss large scale phenomena, we usually are referring to things operating over a large area, like hurricanes. But if we were to map all of the hurricanes in a year over the North Atlantic, the map would actually have to be at a small scale to see them all at once. To clarify, I often use the terms “fine scale” and “coarse scale.”

Analysis scale refers to the size of the unit at which a particular problem is analyzed, such as on a scale of a watershed or neighborhood. Phenomenon scale, as referred to by UCSB’s Daniel Montello, is the size at which human or physical earth structures or processes exist, regardless of how they are studied or represented. They are interrelated. For example, choices concerning the scale at which a map should be made depend in part on the scale at which measurements of earth features are made and the scale at which a phenomenon actually exists.

Therefore, scale is important far beyond the map. It is important in deciding at what scale to analyze a problem. For example, for analyzing river systems, is it most appropriate to study whole drainage basins, or select a sample of watersheds? For languages, should you study dialect areas or whole language regions? We often use terms such as local, micro, meso, macro, and global in discussing scale. The idea of nesting is also important – blocks nest inside block groups, which nest inside census tracts which nest inside counties for US demographic analysis based on US Census Bureau geography. Sometimes we have to generalize features and phenomena to really see the pattern, simply because there is too much detail at a local level, and so generalization has to do with scale as well.


I discuss all of this in a video on: http://esriurl.com/scalematters. GIS contains many functions that can be effectively used in teaching about scale. How might you use GIS to teach about scale?

-Joseph Kerski, Education Manager

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Analyzing Change Over Time Using Topographic Maps and Imagery with GIS

A principal aim of geospatial analysis is examining and understanding change over space and time. One of the simplest yet most powerful things you can do in ArcGIS desktop (www.esri.com/arcgis) or in ArcGIS Online (www.arcgis.com) is to visualize change over time by studying change based on different basemaps created on different dates.

For example, I recently conducted a GIS workshop for educators at Northeast Junior College in Sterling, Colorado. While on campus, in ArcMap, I added satellite imagery as well as the USGS topographic map. I determined the date of the topographic map (1971) by accessing the USGS Map Store. I found the date of the satellite imagery (2009) by using the Identify tool in ArcMap on the imagery layer. I used the swipe tool so I could scroll back and forth across the map to easily compare the different basemap images.

The nearly 40 years of changes revealed by comparing the topographic map to the satellite imagery indicated that the name and the location of the college had changed. The college had changed from Sterling Junior College to Northeastern Junior College, and had expanded from the northeast to the southwest. The current location of the college is the former Logan County fairgrounds. After mapping the route we took during our fieldwork with GPS receivers that day (shown in dark yellow on the map below), we discovered that we were on the old fairgrounds track. We could trace the fairgrounds track and then walk that same route on the current campus, noting what had changed.



Comparing the two basemaps revealed changes beyond the campus, including the direction that Sterling had expanded over the decades, the expansion of commercial zoning into former residential areas, and even the renumbering of the interstate from I-80S to I-76. In ArcMap, we measured the areal extent of the city in 1971 and today, compared the percentage of expansion to other communities in the area and other communities of a similar size in the region, and examined population data of these communities.

How might you analyze change over time using topographic maps and imagery of an area you are interested in?

-Joseph Kerski, Education Manager

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